Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturday brunch...

I finally woke up at 11am this morning after a long night of much needed sleep. While enjoying a cup of coffee with Brad, I had the urge to make something special for breakfast. Being that it was already after 11am, I decided it should be a brunch appropriate meal. The decision was an easy one: eggs benedict. So, I hopped on my bicycle and rode to the grocery store.

My mom used to make eggs benedict on Sunday mornings every once in a while. Her hollandaise sauce was always so creamy and flavorful and soaked in perfectly to the toasted english muffins along with the egg yolks. The canadian bacon sandwiched between the bread and egg added just the right amount of salty flavor to round out the meal. This was my first attempt at making my own eggs benedict and I made a couple of small changes. Rather than using english muffins, I used fresh baked white bread from a bakery down the street. In place of Canadian bacon I used smoked salmon. Lastly, I added a side of sauteed asparagus.

For the recipe for the hollandaise sauce, click here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sweet Dreams...

I think it is amazing how dreams can impact your entire day. Last night, I had a horrible dream. I woke up, confused and jolted, wondering if I really had been dreaming or if my life had been turned upside down. It's funny that even when I realized it was, in fact, a dream, I could not shake the unsettling feeling. It was like a bad aftertaste that you can't seem to cover up, even though the food has long been swallowed. To me, there is only one solution to this sometimes scary and empty feeling...ok, there are two solutions...a big hug from my husband and hot chocolate!

For some reason, there is nothing more comforting than a deliciously rich, steaming mug of hot chocolate. Something about it feels like a big fluffly blanket wrapped around my shoulders while big soft snow flakes gently fall from the sky. Unfortunately, in Tokyo, the snowflakes are a dream in and of themselves. Still, hot chocolate helps me to imagine, or dream, that they are there.

Below is my favorite recipe for hot chocolate. I like mine with a little spice, so I add a small amount of cayenne pepper. You could substitute cinnamon for the cayenne if you are not a fan of the heat.

Spicy Hot Chocolate

Makes 1 serving:

1 cup of milk (1% is preferable)

1/4 cup cocoa powder (or to taste)

1/4 cup of sugar (or to taste)

1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

Heat the milk in a heavy pan over low heat until it is warm but not boiling. Whisk in the cocoa powder and sugar until combined and free of lumps. Add the cayenne pepper and heat for 30 seconds, being very careful not to scorch the milk. Pour the hot chocolate into a mug and top with fresh whipped cream, if desired.

Dreaminess in a cup- yummmm!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fishy fishy!

Some of my most content moments are spent in the kitchen. A collection of fresh ingredients, a glass of wine and some good music and I am one happy camper. Just today, I went to the grocery store immediately after school, bought some clams and sea bass fillets and a bottle of wine and went home to make something delicious and brilliant. Well, maybe not brilliant...but it was pretty darn good.

The food I made tonight was definitely not Japanese, but I was able to take advantage of the fresh seafood that plays a large part in the Japanese diet. The seafood part of this post comes in a little later...I began, not with fish, but with a white bean and mushroom dip. It was sort of a play on hummus using cannellini beans (rather than chickpeas) and broiled mushrooms with oregano. Here is the recipe:

White Bean and Mushroom Dip

1 can cannellini beans, strained and rinsed
5 or 6 medium sized mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed (any variety)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
salt and pepper

Move oven rack to the top of the oven and heat the broiler. Arrange the mushrooms, stem side up, in a baking dish. Drizzle the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and sprinkle with the dried oregano. Place under the broiler for 8-10 minutes or until the mushrooms are soft and cooked through.

In a food processor, combine the rinsed cannellini beans, mushrooms with their oil and oregano, salt, pepper and remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Pulse the until the ingredients are combined but still coursely chopped. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if needed. Top with freshly chopped flat leaf parsely and serve with crackers, vegetables, or bread.

The flavor of this dip is earthy and satisfying. To add more texture contrast, this dip would be lovely with some chopped walnuts sprinkled on top as well.

After enjoying the white bean and mushroom dip, I made a fish stew with the clams and sea bass I'd purchased earlier. I have read many different recipes for fish stew, so I tried to remember aspects of each that I particularly enjoyed to develop my own version. This stew is warm and comforting, yet light and full of flavor. One of my favorite parts of this recipe is the dill sprinkled on top at the end. It adds a touch of summer to an otherwise winter worthy meal.

Fish Stew

12 little neck clams or mussels
1/2 pound sea bass or other firm fleshed white fish, skin removed and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small/medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 can diced tomatoes
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 bay leaf
1 3/4 cups white wine
1 cup water
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

Heat the olive oil in a large pan or dutch oven. Add the onion, garlic and bell peppers. Heat until soft (5-10 minutes). Add the paprika, cumin, bay leaf, salt and pepper to taste, and heat until fragrant (2-3 minutes). Add the white wine and cook until simmering. Cook an additional 5 minutes, uncovered. Add the water and saffron and cook for another 5-10 minutes, covered. Add the clams and cook for 3-5 minutes. Add the fish and cook until firm (5 minutes). Ladle into 4 individual bowls and garnish with the parsley and dill.

We enjoyed our fish stew with some toasted bread with olive oil and salt and a glass of white wine. Cooking tonight was a much needed break in the middle of a very busy week!

Monday, February 23, 2009

More Kamakura

Rice crackers are probably my favorite snack food in Japan. They are light, crispy, flavorful, cheap and relatively healthy. In Kamakura, we went to a small shop where rice crackers were made fresh and sold individually for 50 yen each. As soon as I saw this, I had to try one.

The fresh rice crackers were warm and dipped in a sesame flavored glaze. The woman making them folded a small piece of nori (dried seaweed) on the bottom of the cracker. This helped keep my fingers from getting sticky and made for a delicious last bite. After enjoying our snack, we bought some small bags of rice crackers to sample different flavors. Our favorite flavor was Uni (sea urchin). They also had different curry, nori and pepper flavored crackers.

After our adventure at the rice cracker shop, we went off for more sightseeing. A lot more sight seeing, in fact. We did a lot of walking, viewed more temples and found the beach. Click here for more about what we saw.

The restaurant we went to for dinner was the perfect remedy for two tired, cold travelers. Horetaro, a restaurant specializing in okonomiyaki (savory pancakes),was a short walk from our hotel. Okonomiyaki are not like the traditional breakfast pancakes served on Saturday mornings. Instead, okonomiyaki are made with chopped vegetables, meat and seafood. The best part (aside from the taste) is that you get to make the food at your table.
The waiter brings the ingredients to the table in a bowl. Everything is raw and piled separately in the bowl, so the first thing to do is mix the ingredients to make a batter-like consistency. Once the ingredients are mixed, the contents of the bowl are poured onto a griddle in the center of the table. When the okonomiyaki are cooked through, they are transferred to a plate and topped with sauces and other Japanese condiments like soy sauce, mayonnaise, fish flakes, etc.

Brad and I tried two kinds of okonomiyaki: pork with wasabi (our favorite), and squid. The wasabi flavor was unexpected in a pancake but added a welcome bite to the dish. Enjoyed with some sake, this Japanese meal was a new and welcome form of comfort food.

Kamakura showed us a different side of Japan. We were introduced to "old" Japan through the many temples and shrines we visited and became familiar with some traditional and not so traditional foods from this little island. I hope to return to Kamakura to see what else it has to offer.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kamakura, Japan

This past week, Brad and I had two days off of school. We decided to travel outside of Tokyo to escape the busy city. Since the break was short, we chose to travel somewhere that would require little travel time. The best place we found was Kamakura, Japan. An hour south of Tokyo, Kamakura feels like another time period. There are numerous shrines and temples to visit, beaches and of course, great food.

Our first day in Kamakura began with a stop at a coffee shop. We arrived around 11am and needed a little caffeine before we started sight seeing. Along with our coffee, we shared a small snack. In many coffee shops around Japan, different foods are made with hot dog-like sausages. We happened to have one wrapped in a croissant. Although this is not my favorite food in Japan, it hit the spot at this particular time.

Our first destination was the Daibutsu, or Great Buddha. The statue is beautiful and breathtaking. To read more about it and the other places we visited, click here.

After spending some time exploring, we left the Daibutsu and made a couple stops to sample local food. The first thing we tried is something easily found in Tokyo. Mochi, rice cakes covered in a miso sauce, have a great flavor and a funny texture.
They are gooey and served warm on a stick. Ours had sesame seeds on them as well.

Purple sweet potatoes are popular in Kamakura. They are used to make potato chips, lightly breaded and fried potato cakes; my favorite food made with these delicately sweet potatoes is soft serve ice cream. Yes, that's right...purple sweet potato ice cream (pictured above). It is actually a light lavender color and tastes a little like vanilla with a hint of sweet potato. My family makes a dish at Thanksgiving each year made with sweet potatoes, brown sugar, cinnamon and marshmallows. The purple sweet potato ice cream reminds me of the sweet potatoes from that dish, only more mellow.

That night, Brad and I went to a restaurant above the Kamakura train station. It is actually two restaurants that work together. The first, Tenten, specializes in tempura while Furin serves fish and seafood. Brad and I each ordered a combination of sashimi, tempura, miso soup and salad. To help get rid of the chill that night, we enjoyed some warm sake.

Speaking of warm sake, I did a little research on how to heat sake. Here is how to make your own warm sake:

You will need:

Sake pitcher (heat resistant- most are made of ceramic)
pot of hot water

Fill the pitcher with sake. Carefully place the sake pitcher upright in the hot water. When you see small bubbles rising from the sake, remove the sake from the water. Do not allow the sake to boil. If it gets too hot the taste will be ruined. Pour the sake into small sake cups and enjoy!

I think I will let you all digest that for now. Tomorrow, I will add more about our second day in Kamakura. Thanks again for reading and feel free to share your thoughts!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Oden and Shabu Shabu

There is a cold wind blowing through Tokyo tonight. When chilly weather finds its way to this bustling city, Japanese people turn to two classic meals: Oden and Shabu Shabu. Both of these delicious, warming meals are made in a hot pot called a Nabe. Brad and I just bought our first Nabe two weeks ago and have used it twice for Shabu Shabu.
Tonight, Justyna, a good friend in Tokyo, made Oden and Shabu Shabu for a small group of us for dinner.

Oden is made in a dashi broth, which is also the base ingredient for Miso Soup (click here for a recipe).

Ingredients like tofu, boiled eggs, fish cakes, daikon radish, carrots, mushrooms, etc., are boiled in the dashi broth. Oden is also seen in most Japanese convenience stores throughout the winter season. I have never tried it from a convenience store, as it does not look or smell appetizing to me...sorry.

Shabu Shabu, one of my favorite Japanese meals, is similar to Oden in that the food is cooked in a broth. The difference is that it is made with more fresh ingredients. Typically, shabu shabu consists of leeks, cabbage, mushrooms and meat or fish, tofu, and possibly noodles. The ingredients, after being cooked, are dipped in a sauce. The sauce can be made with egg, soy sauce, fish sauce, ginger, garlic, scallions, etc...or can be purchased from the store ready made. From what I understand, using an egg is the Chinese way of making the sauce. Either way, it is delicious.

Shabu Shabu

3 inches dried kombu (sea weed)

leeks, sliced on an angle about 3 inches long

enoki mushrooms

Chinese/Nappa Cabbage

Firm tofu, cut into 2 inch cubes

thinly sliced beef, pork or sashimi grade fish


Fill a Nabe (hot pot) with water. Add the kombu and put over medium heat until simmering. Add vegetables to the broth to add flavor. Add ingredients to the broth as needed until cooked through. Using a slotted spoon or chopsticks, remove the ingredients from the broth and dip in shabu shabu sauce (recipe below).

Shabu Shabu is made entirely in the Nabe. Cooking everything at the table is what makes this form of eating so entertaining and endearing. I love it for the flavor and because it keeps me out of the kitchen and spending more time with guests!

If I were to chose, Shabu Shabu would be my favorite over Oden. It has more flavor and there are more creative options to be had. I love that almost any vegetable can be used. I also enjoy the creative sauce- using a raw egg (something that is not frowned upon in Japan) along with any ingredients that appeal to you, you can make something unique and delicious. Here is my favorite version of Shabu Shabu sauce:

Shabu Shabu Sauce
1 raw egg
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
fresh ginger (chopped)
fresh garlic (chopped)
red pepper flakes
scallions (chopped)
freshly ground sesame seeds

Just mix the ingredients together in a small bowl to use for dipping. If the egg makes you uneasy, it can be omitted.

Stay tuned! This week Brad and I are travelling to Kamakura and are sure to experience some great Japanese food and culture!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The beginning...

Hello from Tokyo! I am creating this blog to satisfy my creative side. I love to cook and I am beginning to love developing my own recipes while learning more about Japanese cooking. I thought it would be nice to share some of the things I learn along the way.

The name of this blog comes from the name of the apartment building where my husband and I live in Tokyo, Japan. It is a small building with 4 floors and a terrace outside of each window. The terraces are beautiful and my favorite part of the building.

Since moving to Japan, I have tried to learn as much as possible about the food culture. It is difficult to do this for two reasons: 1) the language barrier, and 2) lack of familiarity with much of the food. Through the creation of this blog, I hope to be more motivated to seek answers to my questions and broaden my knowledge of food in general.

Much of my experience with Japanese food has been attained from eating out at restaurants. Not knowing what I am ordering or eating has kept me from learning much about the food itself. I know what I like (salmon sashimi, tuna sashimi) and what I do not like (any form of cartilage...especially shark cartilage). My struggles come from not knowing what types of produce to buy and how to prepare it, to asking the fish monger down the street for a specific type of seafood.

I hope this blog will help others in similar situations and will entertain those who are curious about the everyday task of deciding "what should we have for dinner tonight?"

Enjoy reading! Please feel free to leave comments or questions...or answer my questions!